Ashford 31 – Lewes 26
Ashford were ready to right the previous weeks wrongs on Saturday and were playing Lewes in League competition for the first time ever potentially. Ashford were able to welcome back Tommy Murray, Danny Leech, Jake Fletcher and Macauly Jordan after being unavailable for the Park House game, and were also pleased to bring back Shaun Woolford into the centres after missing the previous week through injury. Lewes had won back to back league games so would be tough opposition.
Ashford started solidly and once again looked likely to dominate their opposition up front with a couple of powerful early scrums, they were moving the ball around with more confidence than in previous weeks and a Macauly Jordan break on the right wing almost resulted in a first score. Lewes also had a sizeable pack and despite not matching Ashford in the scrum they had a highly effective catch and drive from the line out, they used this well to score the first try after 27 minutes which was well converted from out wide.
Not to be broken, Ashford came back with force, playing with real structure and a pack which had their best performance for at least a season if not more, they pushed for the line. This pressure told as Dan Brown was able touch down after the Ashford pack pushed their counterparts over from a 5 metre scrum, expertly converted by Steve Tanner who had an excellent all round game. At the kick off Ashford were caught asleep at the line out and not for the first time or the last, the Lewes backline were able to strike out wide and score an unconverted try, score line 12 – 7.
The 5 minutes before half time, turned the game on its head as Ashford came back strongly, putting constant pressure on the Lewes try line which ended with Tom Hinckes crashing over to score his first try of the season. From the subsequent kick off Ashford again applied the squeeze with their back row of Redman, Sherrin and Brown working tirelessly to get over the gain line. This resulted in a penalty being awarded 10 metres out and in front of the posts, ignoring the calls to kick 3 points, young Scrum Half Jack Weaver making only his 3rd first XV game tapped and crashed over the line taking 2 Lewes players with him. This was fine reward for Weaver who marshalled the pack well and was a constant menace both in attack and defence. Half time 19 – 12.
Half time talks are a lot easier when you’re winning and playing well and so Ashford started the 2nd half in the same manner as they had finished the first, aided by the opposition being reduced to 14 men after a yellow card was issued. The pressure told and another Ashford scrum on the Lewes 5 metre was the cue for Dan Brown to score his 2nd try of the game and 4th of the season, the conversion was just wide.
Lewes were not to be undone and their Number 8 and Inside Centre in particular were making significant inroads but time and again were undone by excellent last ditch defence and poor final passes. Ashford were able to capitalise on this and with 10 minutes left Ben King whose return to the club this season has made a huge impact on and off the field, was able to score a well-earned try which was converted by Tanner leaving the score at 31 – 12 with barely 8 minutes left. Ashford rang the changes and were able to give Connor Henderson a first team debut. What followed was 5 minutes of madness as Lewes rallied and scored 2 quick tries both of which were converted, suddenly that long awaited first win looked further away than ever. Fortunately, Ashford stemmed the flow, looked after the ball and closed out the game.
The smiles on the Ashford 1st XV players faces haven’t been a familiar site over the last couple of seasons but were matched by the decent sized crowd. Captain Fussell who pulled the strings expertly all game from the fly half position was quick to praise the hard work and commitment of the whole team and in particular the Ashford forwards who were outstanding.
Head Coach Darren Hall rightly congratulated the team before reinforcing the need for consistency and further application in the coming weeks, there is certainly much to work on but this was a significant step forward. Ashford travel away to Haywards Heath on Saturday for their final league game before enjoying a 2 week break in the league campaign.